Turkish Parliament Set To Ease Restrictions On Freedom Of Speech


Monsters and Critics.com
April 7 2008

Ankara – The Turkish parliament is to vote on changing infamous
Article 301 of the criminal code that makes it an offence to ‘insult
Turkishness’ and which has been widely criticized by human rights
groups and the European Union which Turkey aspires to join, Turkish
media reported on Monday.

The main change to the article is that the president’s permission
would be needed for cases of insulting Turkishness – as well as
denigrating the state, the military and other official institutions –
to proceed. At present individual lawyers can make a complaint and
it is up to lower level courts to decide on whether to lay charges.

The amendment bill was handed to the parliament on Monday evening,
NTV television reported.

The Turkish government has come under intense pressure to amend or
scrap Article 301 which has been used by nationalist lawyers to bring
charges against more than a thousand journalists and writers in the
past few years.

European Union politicians have been at the forefront of criticism
of the article and have called on the government to amend or scrap
the article if Turkey is serious in its bid to join the union.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a clear majority
in parliament and would not have to rely on opposition parties to
pass the bill. The far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has
promised to oppose any changes related to Article 301.

Article 301 has been used to try a number of prominent authors and
writers including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who was acquitted on
a technicality, and ethnic Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink,
who was murdered last year by a nationalist teenager who confessed
to police that Dink’s conviction was a motivation.

Earlier on Monday, the Turkish government department charged with
co-ordinating the country’s efforts to become a member of the European
Union gave a list of laws to the Prime Ministry that it said need
to be changed immediately, with laws that limit freedom of speech at
the top of the list, CNN Turk television reported.

The EU General Secretariat recommended that not just Article 301 but
that a number of other articles in the criminal code be amended.

The list of laws that also need amending include laws regarding the
justice system and workers rights. The secretariat also said a broad
strategy to combat corruption was also needed.

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